Debate rages at adland's ideas pub crawl

Sean McIlrath, executive creative director at Iris, takes a professional interest a "pub crawl for the thinking ad man".

Sean McIlrath...executive creative director at Iris
Sean McIlrath...executive creative director at Iris
"What is a big idea?" asked Lawrence Green of a pub so full of Fallon junkies they had spilled out onto the street and were threatening to disrupt traffic. "This!" he answered, "This is a big idea!"

Green was referring to the event he was speaking at - which, last Thursday, brought together over 800 of the industry's most diverse thinkers to discuss the topic of "Where Next?"

Billed as "The Thinking Man's Pub Crawl", Under The Influence is more like an awards ceremony than a traditional speaker event. It has the same riotous mix - a celebration of great ideas combined with an unholy intake of alcohol.

For the second year, Iris had taken over five pubs in Borough Market, re-named them and rammed them to the rafters with as bizarre a mix of attendees as ever darkened the door of a British boozer. Admen, clients, environmentalists, economists and thinkers got together over a pint to exchange views and soak up some inspiration. Surreally, even Jamie Oliver made an appearance.

Each pub had its own topic and, like an intellectual version of Glastonbury, attendees wandered happily between venues in search of mind-expanding experiences.

Media "snacking" and content

In The Dip Inn (formerly The Market Porter) the future of short-form content was being debated. Viral Factory co-founder Matt Smith talked of the rise of media "snacking" and why and how short form content works today. It's about "killing off the tyranny of time" Smith intoned and he explained its growth as a consequence of people's desperation to break up the daily grind. He also touched on the emergence of ARG's or Alternative Reality Games, inspired by JJ Abrams (of Cloverfield and Lost fame) and held up the McDonald's work for the Olympics as something to watch out for.

Haymarket Brand Media's Head of Digital Content Philip Smith gave an insight into the business of content, from the publishing industry's side, provoking conversations that raged late into the night. And David McCandless, author of ‘The Internet Now In Handy Book Form' talked about the need for ‘tag clouds' and simple visual representations or metaphors for what would otherwise be the overwhelming amounts of content and data available today.

Wrapping it up was visionary speech from videoblogger Andrew Baron of Rocketboom giving a glimpse of what the future might bring in online TV content. He ended on the importance of sharing - of being open, transparent and collaborating for the greater good.

The cult of celebrity and Big Dumb Agencies

In The Runaway Tongue (formerly The Wheatsheaf) the Editor of Heat, Julian Linley gave a range of insights into the future of popular culture and the cult of celebrity, as Laurence Green's championing of ‘The idea' was described as both "heroic" and "inspirational" by a wide-eared audience of creative acolytes. Green told the hundreds of cross-legged onlookers how, after the online furore caused during the shooting of "Balls" in San Francisco, the agency realised that today campaigns can actually begin on the first day of the shoot, rather than the first airdate.

The author and Adscam blogger George Parker brought his own unique brand of cynicism to the floor, based on his thirty odd years in the Madison Avenue trenches. Parker, more like an ageing rock God than digital aristocracy, played to a fully packed boozer of frantic fans. In a gusto-drenched, no-holds-barred performance he attacked the old networks as 'BDA's' Big Dumb Agencies and slated their owners, singling out in particular a certain diminutive British mogul who he continually referred to as "the poison dwarf". Whether it was the beer, the company or the candid atmosphere, there was a feeling that nothing need be left unsaid. Parker also spoke on the future of publishing and how Amazon are disrupting the traditional model with print on demand and a fairer profit split between author and publisher.

Immersive experiences and "event" commercials

Meanwhile, in ‘The Dive Inn' experts were exploring the subject of immersive experiences with Contagious Editor Paul Kemp-Robertson, Frukt Music co-founder Jack Horner. Horner and Ant from Frukt laid down a five point manifesto for brands using music. They urged creatives to find a different angle, view the commitment as long-term and fully leverage the track - not just in the obvious channels such as live experiences, but everywhere possible. Tallying with Green's message to explode assets in unexpected media. Poke's Iain Tait excited a lot of conversation by comparing the evolution of interactive experiences to the evolution of magic. Rather than getting people to simply be observers of the magic that brands create, he talked of ways in which we should be empowering individuals with their own magic.

Iris's Cameron Day talked about the future of experiential marketing - how it is now blending with TV in the form of "event" commercials. He made a plea for complementary planning with digital and urged creatives and clients alike to explore more fully its potential to bring brands to life in retail. Day called for better content, as opposed to "poorly executed, formulaic AFP" work and finished by debating the outdoor ad ban in Brazil with a bloke from a Sao Paulo agency.

Ethical consumerism

The Principled Practitioner looked at ethical consumerism with Sophie Thomas, founder of Three Trees Don't Make a Forest, Naresh Ramchandani, co-founder of Do The Green Thing and John Grant, whose diatribe against the horrors of corporate growth had even the barmen looking worried. "We're on the verge of a new industrial revolution" he declared whilst praising innovative business models like ebay and freecycle. His advice? "Redesign life".

The climax

The closing event, held in The Climax and Curtains, (Balls Brothers), gave those attending the opportunity for a bit more debate on the hot topics of the day. But by that stage it seemed that everyone had something to say and the panellists had to compete with the audience as good-natured debates raged in all corners.

Those who made the After Party sailed the good ship Sambuca far past midnight and into the tempestuous early hours of Friday morning, where they were to be found stumbling through the streets loaded with opinions and UTI goodies.

Where next? It seems that everyone had a point of view. They may not have been able to find the last bus home, but they all seemed to have a take on what way the future was heading.

See you next year.